Keep up to date with latest legal developments
Monday 22 July – The University of Nottingham Students’ Union has reversed a decision to refuse affiliation to our client, Nottingham Students for Life, after the Union was reminded of its obligations under Equality Legislation. The Students’ Union had previously refused affiliation to the Students for Life group on the grounds that the group’s values “did not align” with those of the Students’ Union and officers of the Union had been involved in a public protest against the group’s appeal.
In a pre-action letter to Students’ Union, Sinclairslaw drew attention to the Union’s constitutional documents, which guaranteed fair and equal representation to all students and a commitment to ensure that equality ran through the core of all their activity. The Union was reminded that they had a legal obligation not to discriminate against groups on the basis of their religion or belief, and they could not treat them less favourably because they disagreed with their views.
The reversal is a great victory for freedom of expression on University campuses. Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights considered the issue in a report to Parliament last year, and stressed that: “Minority groups or individuals holding unpopular opinions which are within the law should not be shut down nor be subject to undue additional scrutiny by student unions or universities.” Equality and Human Rights Commission Chair David Issacs recently emphasised that Universities were intended to be “bastions of debate and defenders of expression” and Students’ Unions should not be blocking pro-life societies from being able to affiliate.
Paul Conrathe, Sinclairslaw’s lead solicitor on the matter, can be quoted as follows:
“We are very pleased to see that common sense has prevailed in this case. While student officers are free to disagree with the views held by other students, they cannot use their powers to block or disadvantage others. Equality Legislation ensures an equal playing field, and this is critical in the University context where students must be able to discuss and debate all kinds of things, including issues that may cause upset or offense. We are glad that our client’s rights have been vindicated in this case, and we hope it will encourage other Students’ Unions to ensure climates that protect free speech rather than chilling it.”
A spokesperson for Nottingham Students for Life/Julia Rynkiewicz, President of Nottingham Students for Life, can be quoted as follows:
“I am grateful to the team at Sinclairslaw for ensuring that our rights to freely speak and assemble at the University of Nottingham were upheld. We know that we are not the first society to face this kind of open hostility because of our views on when life begins, and we certainly won’t be the last. Our pleas to the Students’ Union to ensure a respectful and tolerant environment for all students had fallen on deaf ears, and it is regrettable that it took the threat of legal action in order for the Union to take its legal obligations seriously. We are delighted to have now received affiliation, and we look forward to engaging the student body on this important issue in a respectful and positive manner.”